As part of the Year of Italian Culture in the United States, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Codex on the Flight of Birds” will make its second appearance on American soil at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. The notebook, on loan from the Biblioteca Reale in Turin, Italy, dates back to approximately 1505 and contains da Vinci’s schemes, scribblings and sketches about bird flight and — though he was about 400 years early to the party — the possibility of mechanical aviation.
“Leonardo da Vinci materials very rarely travel, even within Europe,” said Peter Jakab, chief curator at the Air and Space Museum. “To have a da Vinci item come to the United States for a public exhibit is extraordinary.”
The codex will be digitized so visitors can flip through each of the 18 folios on monitors. It’s one of da Vinci’s only notebooks dedicated to a single subject. In it, he explored “issues about aerodynamics, the importance of lightweight structures [in flight], the position of the pilot and how he would need to fly the airplane,” Jakab said. “He even hints at the force that Newton would later define as gravity.”